Students demand more resources for sexual violence
In January of this year, President Obama created a White House Task Force of senior administration officials to address the increased rates of sexual assault on college campuses. In a press release from the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House, they call the prevalence of rape and sexual assault at universities in the United States “both deeply troubling and a call to action.” Taking this into consideration, a group of Brandeis students have taken measures into their own hands this week to create a call to action on campus. On Monday morning, Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV) hand-delivered copies of a letter to university President Fred Lawrence, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Provost Steve Goldstein ’78, expressing their concerns over what they consider to be a lack of resources for and attention to sexual violence on campus.
The 13-page document outlines that Brandeis has an obligation to “live up to the core values that make us who we are, and become a forerunner in the fight to end sexual violence in college campuses across the country.” The same day the group also released a petition online at Change.org, including the first page of the letter and a chance for individuals to take a stance on the issue. The letter proposes 11 changes they believe will fulfill the present needs within the Brandeis community, but the main goal they are working toward is establishing a permanent rape crisis center. SASV hopes that that this will be established sometime in the near future and that a collaborative effort will be made between various groups on campus to communicate better and hold the appropriate discussions before this project is started.
“This is not unreasonable to ask,” Amalia Bob-Waksberg ’14 said. “Other schools have created room in their budget to combat these issues and so should Brandeis.”
The group is asking the administration for a formal response by April 14 to set a date for further conversations. They emphasize that they want to collaborate and work with the administration because they know that the school is dedicated to this combating this issue.
“We want to work with our administration to help transform our campus community and make Brandeis a pioneer in this far-reaching call for action,” the letter states.
Ava Blustein ’15 says the deadline is not meant to be a threat, but rather to stress that the group wants this process started as soon as possible.
“We know that the administration cares deeply for this cause, and we don’t want it to fall apart,” said Blustein.
The group is comprised of survivors, supporters of survivors, peer counselors and leaders from various organizations that support the group’s prevention and awareness efforts. Bob-Waksberg says the group has identified people who hold very different roles on campus, and this effort would provide stronger communication on these issues.
“There are resources available on our campus, but part of the problem is that these resources aren’t communicated and made accessible to the community, and the various people providing these resources aren’t communicating with each other,” Bob-Waksberg said. “That’s why we are inviting people from all corners of campus to come together. We need to work together more efficiently and we need to demand accountability.”
The group both acknowledges and commends the many members of the Brandeis community who contribute to ensuring the safety and well-being of students by engaging in awareness and prevention efforts. The letter praises the dedication of student organizations and activists, the Health Center staff, counselors at the Psychological Counseling Center and faculty, among many other individuals personally committed to this issue.
But other members of the community claim that Brandeis is not up to par in providing the appropriate resources.
“As a school that calls itself the ‘premier social justice university,’ we have an obligation to put this at the forefront. As far as providing resources and giving attention to the issues of sexual violence on campus, Brandeis lags behind its peers,” Victoria Jonas ’15 said.
Jonas cites Boston University’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Center, an on-campus site that has direct and ‘round-the-clock access to trained professionals in the area of sexual assault and trauma. She recognizes that while the school is larger in size and may be able to provide more resources, having professionally trained staff is a critical step in making the Brandeis campus a safer space. Specific sexual assault response training of Brandeis police is one of the proposed changes in the letter.
“Our campus police need to understand how to respond in a way to sexual assault, rape and violence that is sensitive and compassionate,” Jonas said. “They need to know what questions to ask and how to ask them.”
SASV is not recognized as a formal club on campus, but rather a closed group that holds a safe space for discussion. The group was formed six weeks ago, right before SpeakOut! Brandeis emerged, an anonymous online forum that allows those affected by sexual assault, violence and harassment to make their voices heard. In the letter to the administration, SASV says they saw an overwhelming number of submissions in a relatively short amount of time that inspired them to take further action. Although SASV is a separate entity unrelated to SpeakOut!, they highly support the student-led group and its goals.
“Through the high volume of submissions, it became clear that something was missing from our community. SpeakOut! illuminated a need for the resources and a discussion around these issues,” Shota Adamia ’15 said.
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